A few days ago I had the honor of receiving ISTE’s Make It Happen award at the MACE conference. I was nominated for my effective use of technology both in the classroom (creating awesome Youtube videos, encouraging a wide range of tech tools, implementing engaging writing strategies using technology, etc.) and outside of the classroom (coaching the FLL robotics team, starting the Books for Backpacks initiative, advocating for my students by being part of a wide range of technology committees in the district, etc.). Most importantly I was recognized for my ability to make learning fun and keep the kids engaged in their learning.
It was a privilege to get recognized for the work I do in and out of the classroom. I can’t describe the experience of walking in front of an auditorium full of people and getting affirmation that I’m good at what I do.
I’m not good at sharing stuff like this. I do a terrible job “tooting my own horn” as they say. But I think it’s important to share accomplishments like this as often as possible. Not for our own self-gratification, but to change the narrative about public education.
Every week I see negative stories on Facebook and in the news about a teacher who did something they weren’t supposed to or a rant about some educational policy that the poster/news commentator disagrees with. That’s not the narrative I want surrounding my profession. I see too many skilled educators around me to believe that that is the most important story to be told right now.
Unless we go out and share the amazing things happening in our classrooms, someone else is going to tell the story of education. We either have to accept someone else’s story or tell our own.
On that note, I didn’t get my award because I’m the only great teacher out there. I received the award because I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who tolerate my crazy, support my ideas, and help keep me grounded when necessary. Nothing I do would be possible without a strong network of amazing educators.
That’s the narrative I want to tell. What’s yours?
At church today there was a marriage therapist speaking about relationships and one of the analogies she made really stuck with me. She described our emotions like a smoke detector. A smoke detector blares it’s alarm full blast if it detects smoke. It doesn’t matter if your house is on fire or you burned your toast. At the first sign of trouble the warning signs start sounding to let you know to get ready for a possible disaster.
Our brains are designed like this as well. We are made with a built in fight or flight response. As soon as we sense danger our natural instinct to protect ourselves kicks in. Our brains draw all the energy from the outer reaches of our thought processes to be used for basic protective functions.
This is probably one of my biggest weaknesses. My smoke detector often runs unchecked. As soon as I sense something isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, my alarms start blaring and I ratchet up to 11. I’m in full on attack mode before I process the threat. Sometimes it’s a decision I disagree with at work or something someone says that gets under my skin. I don’t always take the time to assess if my house is on fire or if my toast just got burned.
Our students get this way too. They don’t always know how to deal with complex emotions, so when trouble arises, they automatically shift into defense mode. When they reach that point their brains are no longer primed to hear what you have to say or learn new material. They need to de-escalate to process. They also don’t always come to us with the skills needed to assess what an appropriate response should be.
Knowing this about myself and my students, this week I’m going to ask myself one question. Is my house on fire or did I just burn some toast…translation: is this problem worth getting upset about or is it something I should just move past? Hopefully I can teach my students some of these same skills.
Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Other days everything fits together like a puzzle. Last Thursday I had one of those days where everything went better than planned.
The lesson was a review of nouns, verbs and adjectives. We’ve gone over it several times in class, but the kids were still having trouble sorting out which is which. To review I gave them a list of 8 nouns, 8 verbs and 8 adjectives mixed up. For this activity there were several steps:
- Each group (4-5 students) had to sort the nouns, verbs and adjectives into columns. There were a couple of tricky words in there like “is”
- When groups were finished they had to create the two most interesting sentences using only those 24 words. To add a challenge to the task, groups rolled a dice. Whatever number they rolled was multiplied by 2. That number was the number of additional words they could write into their sentences. For example, if a student rolled a 3, then they could write in 6 additional words into their sentences.
- I set a timer for 10 minutes. Groups who finished their sorting the quickest got more time for their sentences.
- When the timer went off I collected all of the sentences. The following hour I had my students vote on their favorite sentences. My class is gamified, so each table group is a team continuously trying to earn points to improve in the overall standings. The winning group received bonus points for their team.
- Then I took the winner from each hour, and they voted on a grand champion. The champion team scored even more points.
The sentences ended up being silly, but the kids were engaged the entire time. They were reviewing the strategy and enjoyed the chance element of the dice roll.
Hopefully I can have more moments like this in class.
Teaching is messy. Just when you think you have things figured out you get a curveball, whether it’s a new student, a new initiative or a full moon. Sometimes as a blogger it’s easy to get caught up in wanting everything to be perfectly written: correct grammar, inspiring message, etc. But that’s not real life. That’s not a true view into teaching.
My long overdue New Year’s Resolution is to be more reflective in my teaching and not worry as much about perfection. I want to get my ideas down and share them as quickly as possible. I’d rather get the ideas into the world where they can hopefully help someone else, instead of waiting and waiting for the exact right wording to strike.
My goal, (and since it is in writing I have to stick to it right?) is to write at least one blog post every week. I’m committing to that. I’m not promising magic in my little corner of the internet, but I’m hoping by sharing my ideas I can be a more reflective teacher and improve and grow.
Thanks for joining me on this journey.
Several months ago my wife and I needed a new car. We did the research and looked at a wide range of cars. We eventually found a car that we hadn’t seen on the road before. It was a Ford Fusion. We love everything about the car and found a dealership that was nearby with a great deal. As soon as we took it home I noticed something. There are a lot of Ford Fusions out on the road. Not only that, but there are a lot of cars on the road that came from this dealership that I had never heard of until that day.
Perception is a funny thing. We tend to perceive what is important to us and what directly impacts our world. Our brains filter everything else out, it’s just background noise. What I thought was a unique car, was actually fairly common, but I didn’t perceive that until I needed to single it out from the noise.
It’s easy to fall into that trap in the classroom as well. There are times when students will bring things to my attention that I don’t realize are occurring. Sometimes they are pointing out that an assignment’s instructions are confusing or that they feel I’m treating the class unfairly when I give them a consequence. It’s uncomfortable. Nobody likes someone to call them out for something they perceive is wrong.
I don’t always agree with their assertions, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that they have this perception. I have two choices: either I can ignore it and hope they change their minds or I can take the time to look at the situation through their eyes and try to figure out why they feel the way they do. Change can’t happen unless I can truly understand all sides.
Ultimately, I may still disagree with them. But seeing the world through their eyes gives me the opportunity to present myself in a different manner while still attaining the same results. And sometimes I come to realize they were right all along.
The world would be a much better place if we could all take the time to perceive things through another’s eyes.
Tomorrow I will begin my ninth year of teaching. This is my 9th year of preservice trainings. My 9th year of new initiatives and new ideas for transforming our classrooms. My 9th year of detailed explanations about why my assessment data should be better.
It’s easy to drown in all the minutia of school, the directives and new pedagogy that will revolutionize teaching. Sometimes it’s important to reflect and remember why we do what we do.
I don’t teach because I want to transform my students into test taking masters. I don’t teach because I relish the thought of torturing my students with stories they won’t care about. I teach because I know that I can help guide my students toward a better understanding of who they are.
This year my grade level counterparts and I are focusing on three themes in Language Arts: survival, identity, and hope. I want my kids to read and write in my class, not solely to become prolific readers and writers. I want my kids to read and write in my class to discover who they are and to realize that who they are MATTERS. I teach world changers. I teach kids who can move mountains and innovate. I’m teaching the generation that will find peace in the chaos. I teach so that my students will see the good in the world, to show them that there is hope for the future. I teach them so that I can remind MYSELF that there is hope in the world.
Tomorrow I will walk through those doors and look into the eyes of my students, and I will be happy knowing that the future is in their hands.
As you go about your school year, I wish you all the best and hope that you take some time to reflect. Remember that it’s not about a test, or a reading score, or a grade. It’s not about instituting the correct lesson plan format or the correct note-taking strategy. It’s about ensuring that your students walk out of your classroom a better person than when they entered it, that they are more prepared for their future, and most importantly that they are ready to make the world a better place.
Through podcasts, web pages, mailed invitations, a ‘Meat ‘n’ Greet,’ and a final email blast, you can build up your incoming students’ back-to-school excitement.
Source: 5 Tips to Kick Start the School Year